2.2 Tall versus flat organisations
Where there is a large number of levels in the management hierarchy, the organisation is said to be ‘tall’. This will tend to result in narrow spans of control. Where there is a small number of levels in the hierarchy, the organisation is said to be ‘flat’. Flat organisations will tend to have wide spans of control. Figure 3 shows a comparison of tall and flat organisation structures.
In recent years, there has been a trend towards delayering, whereby tall organisations have tended to become flat organisations by the removal of various levels in the hierarchy. This has been facilitated by:
- a.Information technology, which has reduced the need for many middle management jobs, which were largely concerned with processing information to facilitate control within the organisational hierarchy.
- b.The management philosophy of empowerment, whereby people at lower levels have been delegated authority to take actions and make decisions which would previously have been the domain of middle managers
Changes in organisation structures have led to changes in approach to management and vice versa.
The advantages of delayering are:
- a.A significant reduction in costs as middle managers’ salary costs are removed.
b.Increased motivation as people at lower levels are given power/discretion to make decisions. Improved performance is likely to be a consequence of increased motivation.
- c.Improved, faster communication between senior management and operational levels – increasingly important in a faster changing, more uncertain and increasingly competitive external environment.
There are also disadvantages to delayering, the principal one being a possible loss of control. Middle managers are often necessary to translate the inevitably broad and general plans of senior management into operational plans and actions that can be implemented. Senior managers may have only a hazy understanding of what is going on at the operational level and much is thereby entrusted to relatively junior people (Coates et al., 1996, p. 116).
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